The Hamster


Our foster child has now been with us for five months. There are no plans for her to be moving on any time soon although previous (admittedly limited) experience proves that things can happen and change very quickly.

She arrived late on a Thursday night. We had been called by the council just after five and were given no more information than age and gender. It was an emergency placement and after some time (at the police station) she arrived with her social worker who was clearly working extremely late that night so didn’t have much time to stay and chat.

That evening as we made something light for her to eat, she told me about her hamster. She was worried about her hamster because she had only had him for a few days and he was at home alone. Noone to feed him or look after him.

The next day, I called the social services department. Repeatedly. About the hamster. Could anyone reassure us that hamster wasn’t ‘home alone’? Would we be able to tell a very distressed, displaced child that her hamster – that her parents had clearly told her that she was responsible for – was safe. She was terrified that her hamster might not survive the weekend. Clearly and understandably, I suppose, hamster care is not the top priority for a very busy child protection team in London. We had no response.  Eventually and actually after calling an out of hours team, we had some information that hamster was safe. I have to say I was a little suspicious and thought it might have been a rapid ‘fob off’ and I’m sure we developed reputations about neurotic foster carers obsessing about the well-being of a hamster.

But the importance of a hamster was not lost for a child who had been robbed of so much familiarity. Her home life had been blown apart. She had just started a new school in a new country with a new language (English is a second language to her).

The weekend was tough with no firmer news of hamster but news arrived on Monday that Hamster was safe and well. The next day, we took delivery of a foster hamster who came to join her owner.

I write this with child next to me playing with that same hamster. She has so much love for the little critter. She feels that her hamster is going through what she is going through. When she was sick, hamster cage moved into her bedroom. I might laugh about the little rodent but I look at the little furry face and can’t imagine how much little hamster is helping her.

We have had some scary overenthusiastic play ‘Don’t squeeze the hamster’ ‘No, you can’t take the hamster to meet the neighbour’s cat’ ‘I’m not sure your hamster really enjoys being thrown up in the air.. even if you are sure you can catch him’.

I have to say, I’ve gotten quite fond of the hamster too. He is very bombproof and has been handled to extreme levels – while displaying not the slightest nibbley temperament – unless you have a chocolate drop in your hand.

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10 thoughts on “The Hamster

  1. This is a great post! I’m glad she and the hamster have each other, especially after she’s lost so much.

    I love reading how the UK foster caring program differs from the US’s versions, so I really appreciate these posts. Best wishes to your family, your little girl, and her hamster!

  2. THAT is absolutely awesome! I’m shocked to hear that a child welfare agency actually went the extra mile to retrieve the little guy – and thrilled that you were willing to take him in too! I am sure that your foster child is reaping the benefits of haviing one less thing to worry about – and one more comfort as she copes with all the changes in her life. Brava to you!

  3. We had a similar case with a foster child and a cat here in the states. At the first Family Court hearing, a day after the emergency removal, the child asked the judge about his cat who was left alone (birth mother arrested). Court ordered agency worker to contact ASPCA and police, enter house, get cat. Foster mother couldn’t take cat but luckily HER mother could and child got to visit cat a lot during her stay in care. Pets are often overlooked but can mean so much to the kids – it’s indescribable.

  4. Thanks for all the comments! I love that story about the cat too and definitely think the importance and therapeutic value of animals is easily missed.

  5. Wonderful! My dad is a veterinarian, so I grew up seeing how important pets were in the lives of people. I’m so glad that your Girl was able to be reuinted with Hamster!

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